It's the update everyone knew was coming, and now Microsoft has made Windows 8.1 Update 1 official during its Build 2014 developer conference in San Francisco (ed: Windows 8.1 update 1 is now out and available for download.)
Firstly the Microsoft updated the user interface of the Windows desktop to work with Windows Store apps. Now users will be able to pin apps like Skype and the Xbox app, which have since only lived in the Windows 8.1 Metro ecosystem to their taskbar.
What's more these apps can finally be tabbed through and minimized on the desktop. Scrolling up the top of a full-screen modern app, meanwhile, will bring up a familiar title bar complete with "Close" and Minimize buttons"
Fixing the Start Menu
Bringing more clickable options to the Start Screen, Microsoft also stuck on a power and search button to the upper right portion of the screen. Rather than having to go through the charms menu, users will be able to shutdown their computer straight from the Start Screen.
With this new search button users can also look for apps to buy straight from the Start page without having to go into the Windows Store.
Additionally users will be able to right click on app tiles in the Start page to access to some quick options just as users were once able to do with the Windows 7 and Windows XP start menu.
Windows 8.1 update 1 will start rolling out to existing users starting April 8. However, those with access to Microsoft's Developer Network servers can install the update today.
Same app experience across devices
Universal Windows apps are a big deal for Windows 8.1 and Microsoft is working to make integration across devices including phones and tablets. Thanks to a new runtime on Windows Phone 8.1, apps built for phones can live on the desktops.
One of the first Universal Windows apps will be Paint for Kids and it will be able to scale from a Windows phone screen to a full-size 24-inch desktop monitor. The apps won't just show up across devices, anything bought on the phone, such as a new in-game sword, will also be transferred to the desktop version.
Touch first versions of Office
One of the most important applications to get the Universal Windows treatment is Microsoft Office. Although it was not ready for release at the time, Microsoft Office Corporate Vice President Kirk Koenigsbauer demoed an early build of the new PowerPoint.
The Office 365 cloud back end will allow users to work on documents across devices. Full featured presentations created on the desktop will transfer seamlessly across to smaller devices.
Touch is being added to every tiny aspect of Office from selecting elements in the ribbon to dragging and scaling images. The same touch controls extend to the presentation mode allowing users to highlight elements with a simple finger stroke.
The prodigal desktop will return
With the last set of future updates - which may not necessarily come with the next Windows 8.1 Update 1 - Microsoft teased that Universal Windows applications will fit into windows rather than having everything fill a full-screen experience.
What's more the start menu will return with the same list of programs and search bar at the bottom. Upon clicking the Start Button, the OS will pop open the familiar menu and a new set of additional app and live tiles.
Similar to the Windows Phone 8.1 interface, this new section of live updating tiles will sit right next to the old Start Menu to include constantly updating information of stocks and the weather. Microsoft didn't mention exactly when these elements will return to Windows 8.1, but we can expect them to be pushed into the operating system through a future update.
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